30 Nigerian villagers killed by gunmen in fresh violence

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Witnesses and survivors on Monday described how gunmen attacked a village in central Nigeria, burning houses and animals in the latest outbreak of violence blamed on long-standing ethnic divisions.

It was not immediately clear how many people were killed in the incident in Shonong village in the Riyom area of Plateau state, which along with neighbouring Kaduna has been plagued by communal strife.

Local people said at least 30 died, many of them women and children, and some 25 others were injured but police put the toll at five.

State police chief Chris Olakpe confirmed the attack, which reportedly began at about 7:00 am (0600 GMT), and that investigations were ongoing.

“We have it on record that five people were killed and many houses were burnt in the attack,” he told AFP.

Witnesses said more than 40 houses were burnt while domestic animals were either killed or taken away by the perpetrators, suspected to be Hausa-Fulani herdsmen.

Plateau and Kaduna lie in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt, where the country’s majority Muslim north meets the predominantly Christian south.

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Human Rights Watch said in December that more than 10,000 people had died in the two states in brutal tit-for-tat violence since 1992 purely because of their religious or ethnic identity.

Several thousand of those had lost their lives since 2010, the rights monitor added.

Religion plus claims of discrimination and favouritism from both Hausa-Fulani Muslims and smaller Christian groups who together make up the majority in the states, are blamed for the violence.

A lawmaker representing Riyom, which is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of the state capital, Jos, also confirmed the attack and questioned why soldiers in the area had not prevented it.

“Over 30 people were killed and with so many… lying in the hospital,” Daniel Dem told reporters.

The military spokesman in the area was not immediately available to respond.

Two local chiefs in the community were killed two days before Christmas.